This article originally appeared on VICE US.
'Hey, you around?' is VICE's column asking drug dealers not just what they're selling, but how they're doing.
Emilio, 39, originally from New York, has been selling cocaine, ecstasy, weed, wax, cartridges, LSD, and mushrooms since the mid-90s and started wholesaling cannabis when he relocated to the Midwest in the early 2000s.
Hey you around?
Yeah I'm around. What you need?
What’s in your repertoire and who do you sell to?
I sell mushrooms, shatter, crumble, carts, and my largest seller is plain weed. I have a customer base in all four corners of Illinois, and branching out into Wisconsin, Iowa, Indiana, Florida, Texas, New York, and both Carolinas.
When did you start selling drugs and why?
I started selling drugs at 14 years old. It was originally just weed. Later coke, ecstasy, acid, and mushrooms. It started cause we were poor as fuck and my mom could barely afford to feed myself and my younger sister and brother. My mother was a recovering heroin addict. She had me when she was 16. My father was a piece of shit and left us with nothing so I grew up around gangsters (the suit and tie kind), gangbangers, killers, and drug addicts. I tried the gangbanger life and it wasn't for me and I decided right away I didn’t want to be a killer or an addict so I decided to try my hand in the sales game.
How did that go?
Got my first quarter pound of weed and rolled it all up into Philly blunts, took them to school and waited for the bell to ring. Within 30 mins of the bell ringing and school letting out, every single blunt in that box was sold and I was fucking hooked on the job. I was an instant professional at whatever was put in my hands to sell. It got to the point, about 1996, where I was moving so much product around that the bigger dealers in the area they used to fight with each other to get me to move their product for them. I was in love with the game.
Why are you a natural drug seller?
I think honestly I got it from my father. He was a hustler himself but in a different way. He knew how to get things from people with minimal effort. And with all the time I spent with him in the summers I watched and learned his processes. I then took that and made my own. That coupled with the fact that I have a natural empathic ability to read people and understand them and what they want, it all made me confident and desirable to others. So when I had a product to offer it was an easy sale. Depending on my clientele, I can wear different hats to make people feel comfortable—the medicinal purveyor to the friendly neighbor, or the local gangster who shouldn't be messed with. To be honest, I could talk all day about how good of a salesman I am, but at the end of the day we all know that drugs really do sell themselves. I just happened to be the person with them all the time.
What does your family think about you selling drugs?
My wife is 100 percent on board with what I do. At this stage in my life I don’t fuck with anything that's not a derivative of marijuana or not natural, like shrooms. My wife being who she is, understands the actual medical benefits and sees selling weed as allowing patients access to medicine. Some of her family are customers of mine, but my family on the East Coast probably has no clue I’ve been selling drugs most of my life.
What do your friends think about your job?
Friends? They understand why I do what I do and they support my decision. Shit, some of them even have funding available to open a dispensary.
Do you have any other work? Does selling pay the bills?
I am what some might call a ‘multipotentialite’ or an entrepreneur. I call myself a dreamer. With the dream to get rich. I have several things I do to afford a good life for my wife and kids. First and foremost I do security consulting. I’m also involved with a podcast and have a recording studio. My newest venture might be opening up a car sales lot. But who knows what the future holds.
How do your customers know what’s on the menu or what you have in stock?
It depends on the customer, but for most I lay my menu out for them only in person. Most of my customers are large-quantity buyers and pretty much always get the newest of the new products.
How do you conduct business and where do you meet customers?
I use two different phones. One for business and one for personal. My business line uses the Signal app. I'm sure for those in my shoes I have no need to explain what the app is or why its used. But anyway, very few people actually use real terminology on the app. Most people just say "hey, are you home?"
I have two responses: "yes" or "no," and that's it. If I say no it could mean two different things: either I'm not home or I'm out and I'll let you know when I have more. If you ever show up at my house unannounced and start asking me for shit I'm going to assume you're wired, I'm going to check you for bugs, and then I'm going to ask you politely to get the fuck out of my house.
How do you get new customers and how do you decide to trust them?
This is a complicated situation when it comes to getting new customers. First off the only way I would even entertain the idea of a new customer is if that person comes highly recommended by someone I consider a close friend. Then there's a process that follows that. First a meeting happens where absolutely no business is discussed. I feel that person out, let’s also keep in mind by this time I would have already done a comprehensive background check on them as I have friends in the P.I. game.
The reason for the meeting is so I can observe the person and their body language and the way they talk. I know that sounds like a judgmental thing to do, but it's to protect myself and my investments. I have this weird way of sensing who is who, and if they are bullshitting me or not. If I feel they will fit, then we meet again to talk business and see where we can take the new relationship. I'm fair and I believe we should all be able to make money, but I also need to trust you first.
What kind of people are your customers?
Most of my customers are blue collar workers with pain, PTSD, sleeping problems, cancer, and so on. The majority of my weed smokers are women. They seem to trust me more than anyone else in the game around here and to be honest they actually move quite a bit of product for themselves through me. I have the occasional raver, but I've also got teachers, lawyers, moms, dads, postmen, auto mechanics, factory workers, and so on. I like that everyone is their own individual person. It makes for good conversation.
What do customers do that drives you insane?
One of my biggest pet peeves is when customers call me over and over. Also when they expect me to be there at their beck and call, like my fucking life revolves around them. Another thing is when they tell me they want to come by and never show up. That type of shit makes me write people off for good. And another thing is when people ask for deals. First off I'm a wholesaler, you're already getting a fucking deal lol stop being cheap. The risk I take to make sure everyone has many different options is ridiculous and people need to fucking realize it.
How risky is it dealing in carts now?
At this current time and place in the weed game the risk is more with the carts. Weed has become so socially acceptable that even most cops in the area aren't fucking with it. The carts on the other hand are being hunted as if it were heroin or crack thanks to all the bullshit with people cutting them with additives that are causing breathing issues.
Do you consider yourself an upstanding citizen?
Yes. I stay away from all law enforcement in any kind of negative way. I take care of my family. I'm a freemason. I donate to a lot of charities. I help feed and clothe the homeless. And on another public note, I’m considering getting into local government.
Hold on, did you say freemason?
Yup. About ten years ago I was introduced to the freemasons by a very good friend of mine. After that first experience, I tried to become one and was denied due to some legal issues at that point in my life. But I never gave up. I studied and soaked up all I could about the craft. Enough time had passed since being in trouble with the cops and I was finally accepted.
Freemasonry has been in my family for a long time and I just chose to follow the lead of those before me so that I may help my community and those less fortunate. It's also nice to have a brotherhood of guys ready and willing to help you out of any jams at a moment's notice. They are a great group of guys and despite what anyone says they are not a secret organization with a plan to take over the world. Although that would be pretty badass too. I personally feel that me supplying a natural product to people in medical need doesn't go against my moral obligation to the freemasons.
Why local government? Won't you be compromised?
Because of my ability to make things happen. To help change things in my city. I know that when I speak, people listen. Even just at the alderperson level I can be a part of great change. I do not fear being found out. By the time I'm ready to run [for office] I will have all the money I need and be 100 percent out of the black market game. So what if they find out who I once was after or during the election? At that point it will be my past and I'm not afraid of my past by any means, in fact it will serve me, by being able to connect with the forgotten people, the people of the streets. I know what they need.
Ever had trouble with the cops, like close calls or sketchy moments?
I've had several, but have never been in trouble with the cops. One time I was driving my beautiful blue ragtop Cadillac Brougham after just copping about five pounds of weed in Wisconsin and crossing back into Illinois. On the highway some dick decided to slam on his brakes in his tiny little car and I slammed into the back of him so hard I lifted his car on to the hood of my car. But he hopped back in his car and took off like a bat out of hell.
Then there was the time my house got raided by 20 fucking pigs fully jacked up with M16s and bulletproof vests and the whole nine only to find a couple of baggies and a scale and they were pissed. The biggest thing about this situation was I’d just ran out of bud and was waiting for my homegirl to drop me off about 10 pounds. I can honestly say someone or something was truly looking out for me. I should have went to prison, but I got lucky.
I've also been robbed at gun point, lost tens of thousands dollars, and have had people break into my house, but that's really the extent. Things have changed so much for me through all those trials and tribulations that I've learned to protect myself from things like that ever happening again.
What do you do in your down time and how do you balance selling with your family life?
In my spare time I edit sound, vocals, and music for local artists. I run a podcast, spend time with my kids and play golf. I'm not your average "stay at home and get stoned and play video games" type of stoner. I like more mentally challenging things to occupy my time. I have a very good balance between my home life and my business life. I have normal business hours just like any store or business. When my kids are around people know not to bother me.
Do you plan on getting out the game?
Yes, very much yes. I'm actually working on the transition of retirement from this game. I have an end date of April 17th, 2020 for me to be completely out of the game. I'm taking my protege to California to meet my plug and handing off my customers to him as well. I feel that after almost 25 years (well over half my life) it's time to walk away from the game.
Will drugs continue to be a part of your life?
Drugs will always be a part of my life. I love drugs. I love to smoke weed, eat shrooms, DMT, and LSD. I plan on opening a dispensary and farm for growing my own product. I need a break from the constant fear of looking over my shoulder and wondering if I'm going to be hauled away in cuffs in front of my daughters. Fortunately for me, I have a wife that fully supports every decision I make and will back me if I ever do get locked up.
How has legal weed affected your business?
The legal weed game has not impacted my business at all. I truly believe that it won’t either. There has been and will always be a need for a black market. Even myself after I walk away from the illegal drug game, I'll still be buying my personal weed from the black market. I just feel it's a safe place for me and I also don’t want my name on some registration in a database for the feds to look at.
*Interviews were conducted over encrypted message and names changed; the interviews have been lightly edited for clarity.
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